Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Leaders Temper Controversial Family Planning Plan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chinese Leaders Temper Controversial Family Planning Plan

Article excerpt

LIKE many Chinese peasants, Zhou De made the mistake of satisfying a hankering for lots of children.

So, in the name of family planning, police drove Mr. Zhou, his wife, and four children from their three-room, mud-and-brick home last month and declared it the "people's property."

The ouster of the Zhou family represents one of the milder methods of state population control eroding the popularity of the communist leadership.

Such severe practices promoting the "one-child-per-family" policy have provoked resentment and failed to curb a baby boom. Thus, China's leaders are tempering their population-control methods in an attempt to preserve their shaky grip on power.

The directors of the biggest exercise in social engineering ever undertaken still regulate childbearing with a strict regime of rewards and punishments. But they are now strengthening family planning propaganda.

The new approach is in line with a directive by the Communist Party's Central Committee in March calling on the party to improve its ties with "the masses," say officials at the State Family Planning Commission. Few policies during four decades of communist rule have met with as much popular resistance as family planning.

Recently, less intrusive methods of control have been emphasized at the national level. But forced abortion, sterilization, infanticide, and other abuses by local officials continue.

Beijing has reduced such violations since the mid-1980s, says Shen Guoxiang, a family planning official in Beijing. Family planning officials in Hunan Province, however, have recently subjected many peasants like the Zhous to harsh punishments in what Beijing officials say is a contradiction of national policy. (Zhou's name has been changed to discourage reprisals.)

The number of such abuses has jumped since the province cracked down on recalcitrant couples in March, say more than 20 natives of Xiangtan, the provincial capital of Changsha, and neighboring towns.

Many officials are compelled to use harsh methods in an attempt to stay within the state's annual ceilings on population growth. They face pay cuts and other penalties if the number of births in their domains exceeds the quota.

The new emphasis in Beijing on education is aimed at containing a baby boom that officials admit at current rates will push the 1.1 billion population well above the 1.2 billion official target for the year 2000.

Conservative leaders have become especially anxious as the surge in births has reduced the per capita grain supply by about 10 percent since 1984.

With their popularity ebbing, however, China's leaders are reluctant to allow local officials to revert to the brutal methods of population control implemented during the mid-1980s.

So, by 1993 China will put in place a nationwide program modeled after a project in Shandong Province stressing grass-roots propaganda, says Mr. …

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